Delhi excise policy manipulated to favor monopoly of liquor trade: CBI tells HC

New Delhi: The CBI Wednesday told the Delhi High Court that the now-scrapped Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22 was manipulated to favour cartelisation and monopolisation in liquor trade in the national capital and former deputy chief minister Manish Sisodia and businessman Vijay Nair were the main conspirators.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) made the contention while opposing the bail plea of Sisodia who sought parity for him with other accused who have got relief and claimed that the senior AAP leader was not in a position to influence the witnesses in the case or tamper with evidence.

Justice Dinesh Kumar Sharma asked Additional Solicitor General (ASG) S V Raju, representing the CBI, to explain to him the whole scam for his understanding.

ASG Raju said the accused wanted to make money but at the same time, they wanted to show that they were transparent which they were not.

“It was a fraud, a scam whereby money was to be made. But they wanted to show they are transparent. Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers of liquor were all connected. Rs 90-100 crore bribe was paid before the policy fructified. The involvement of Manish Sisodia was at the helm of all things,” the law officer argued.

He also informed the high court that a charge sheet has been filed in the case before the trial court on April 25 and cognisance was yet to be taken.

The ASG further said no discussion was done on the policy and it was also not approved by the lieutenant governor of Delhi and added that the new policy was implemented as it was not possible to generate kickbacks in the previous policy.

“Manish Sisodia in conspiracy with other accused formed the policy which was not approved by the LG,” he said.

The high court asked the CBI to file a short note on its submissions and listed the matter for further hearing on Friday.

The CBI, in its written reply opposing Sisodia’s bail plea, claimed that the AAP leader was involved in commission of grave economic offences and was key to unravelling the modus operandi of the crime.

It said the bail plea was devoid of any merit and was an attempt to misuse the intricacies of law to thwart the progress of investigation in the case.

While the CBI contended that Sisodia is the ‘kingpin and architect of the conspiracy” and his influence and clout disentitle him to any parity with the co-accused enlarged on bail, the AAP leader urged the high court to grant him bail claiming no money trail linking him to the proceeds of alleged crime has been found.

The CBI had arrested Sisodia for alleged corruption in formulation and implementation of the now-scrapped Delhi Excise Policy 2021-22 on February 26 following several rounds of questioning.

On March 31, the trial court here had dismissed Sisodia’s bail plea in the matter, saying he was “prima facie the architect” of the “scam” and had played the “most important and vital role” in the criminal conspiracy related to alleged payment of advance kickbacks of Rs 90-100 crore meant for him and his colleagues in the Delhi government.

Sisodia’s counsel had earlier said the lower court has not considered the medical condition of the AAP leader’s wife who is suffering from multiple sclerosis.

He said the condition of Sisodia’s wife was deteriorating.

He had said all the offences alleged against Sisodia are punishable with imprisonment up to seven years, something which should weigh in favour of the AAP leader.

The lawyer had said the allegation that he was a recipient of the proceeds of crime was “all in air” and no money trail leading to him has been found.

The CBI said in its reply that Sisodia was arrested on February 26 due to his non-cooperative conduct during the investigation and he has been confronted with sensitive documents and witnesses.

The CBI said the case involves a deep-rooted, multi-layered conspiracy.

“The applicant is a key link to unearth the modus operandi. The applicant has remained non-cooperative and evasive throughout the investigation in a bid to derail the instant investigation,”┬áit said.

The agency said there was ample evidence on record to show that Sisodia, who was then holding important portfolios including finance and excise, is the chief architect of the conspiracy of tweaking and manipulating the formulation and implementation of the excise policy for causing pecuniary advantage and continues to yield unparalleled influence in the government.

“Under the guise of bringing revolutionary changes to the Excise Policy, the applicant misused his powers and introduced favourable provisions in the new policy. This was done to facilitate the monopolisation of wholesale and retail liquor trade in Delhi for the accused persons of the South Group for siphoning off six per cent out of 12 per cent windfall profit margin for wholesalers provided in the policy in lieu of upfront money/kickbacks of Rs 90- 100 crores paid by the South Group,” it claimed.

The CBI alleged that Sisodia misused his official position and dishonestly introduced changes to the excise policy under the influence of the South Group through his close associate Vijay Nair.

The changes introduced by the applicant not only facilitated the cartelisation of liquor trade in Delhi by the South Group but also enabled it to recover the kickbacks paid by them upfront, it claimed.

The high court had earlier issued notice to the CBI and asked it to respond to Sisodia’s bail plea, which claimed he was “totally innocent” and a “victim of political witch-hunt”.

In his plea filed before the court, Sisodia said there was no material to show his involvement in the offences alleged in the FIR.

“The applicant is totally innocent, who is a highly respected citizen and he has highest respect for the law.

The applicant is a victim of political witch-hunt, which has led to his arrest by the respondent (CBI) on account of ulterior motive to drag the reputation of the applicant through the mud,” his petition said.

The petition said the excise policy was the “collective responsibility” of the Cabinet and it was implemented after being drafted by the excise department.

It was duly approved and Sisodia cannot be held criminally liable for the collective decision of the Cabinet, the excise department, finance department, planning department, the law department and the LG, the petition added.